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Brampton's Mayor Patrick Brown announces that he is entering the race for the leadership of Canada's Conservative Party in Brampton, Ont., on March 13.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

The Conservative Party of Canada turned its leadership race on its head on Tuesday night when it suddenly announced that it had disqualified one of the campaign’s leading candidates, Patrick Brown, from running. It was shocking news.

But while the party’s unproven allegation that Mr. Brown violated Elections Canada’s rules is a serious matter, the decision to immediately throw him out of the race is highly problematic. As it stands, it is more of an indictment of the Conservative Party than it is of Mr. Brown. The party’s leadership needs to explain its actions, because failing to do so could taint the leadership race.

The problems start with the statement from Ian Brodie, the chair of the party’s leadership election organizing committee, in which he says the party is “aware of serious allegations of wrongdoing by the Patrick Brown campaign that appear to violate the financial provisions of the Canada Elections Act.”

Being aware of allegations that “appear” to involve wrongdoing is a rather long way from being in possession of a smoking gun. This vagueness makes it impossible for a reasonable person to know whether invoking the nuclear option of disqualifying Mr. Brown was justified.

And yet Mr. Brodie is refusing to reveal what the allegations are, on the grounds that the matter qualifies for that all-too-convenient exemption from transparency known as being “subject to further investigation.”

That’s it, that’s all, nothing to see here, folks. But that is not good enough. Nor is it a smart communications strategy to be evasive and hope the storm passes.

For his part, Mr. Brown says he was thrown out of the race based on an anonymous allegation that a worker in his campaign was being paid by a private company. He says the party refuses to reveal who the person in question is, or what company was involved, making it impossible for him to properly respond to the charge.

If true, that’s too Kafkaesque for decent company. An anonymous source alleging misdeeds by unnamed actors does not meet the bar for convicting Mr. Brown without trial and sentencing him to banishment from the race.

This is true regardless of the fact that Mr. Brown was found to have breached conflict of interest rules involving his personal finances while an MPP in Ontario in 2018; the two issues can’t be conflated.

Mr. Brodie needs to make a far more convincing case for his party’s actions, and do it now, because what happens if, six months down the road, Elections Canada clears Mr. Brown of wrongdoing?

For one thing, it would indelibly tarnish the result of the race. And here is where the issue gets even murkier.

The leadership candidate often seen as the front-runner is Pierre Poilievre. In a race that is a battle for the soul of the CPC, he is a young, media-savvy populist who served in the cabinet of Stephen Harper, and whose pugnacious, anti-“gatekeeper” rhetoric has won him by far the most support from current and former Conservative MPs.

Patrick Brown, along with fellow leadership candidate Jean Charest, represents a different vision of conservatism, one that is a throwback to the pre-Harper days, when the word “Progressive” was still in the party’s name. It is a less antagonistic, more inclusive approach that many in the party blame for their loss in the 2021 federal election.

By disqualifying Mr. Brown at such a late date in the race, when his name is already on the ranked ballots being sent to party members, the Conservatives may well have tilted the field in favour of Mr. Poilievre.

This is not to say that was the party’s intention. But combined with the opacity surrounding the accusations against Mr. Brown, his response to them, and the party’s refusal to say anything more about the matter, the decision to take so final a step against one of two serious progressive rivals to Mr. Poilievre is justifiable cause for skepticism.

The party should also remember that, by disqualifying Mr. Brown, it has robbed his supporters of their ability to vote for the candidate who signed them up. According to Mr. Brown, that’s 150,000 people.

If the party has evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Brown, it should make it public now. If not, it risks being seen as one of those gatekeepers Mr. Poilievre so despises, deciding which type of Conservative voter gets to choose the next leader, and which one doesn’t.

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